CALL me an uncomplicated soul if you must, but there are times in this techno-driven world of ours where I yearn for the simplicity of yore when sports coupes usually combined a fine blend of stylish beauty with a mechanical beefiness that allowed it perform to a hair-raising degree yet still managing to look raffishly composed.
Ah yes, before the days of hybrid energy powerplants, electronic trickery, and intrusive safety systems those seemed simple times, full of simple pleasures.
This, I know, is a rose-tinted reverie because times were never that simple as the nature of the motor industry is that it is in a state of constant evolution and change has always been the order of the day, but I was particularly pleased recently to make acquaintance with the new Lexus RC 200t sports coupe, mainly because it seemed to me to be something of a throwback.
Given that Lexus and its parent brand Toyota has put so much into the development of hybrid and other engine technologies, it was something of a surprise to see the marque reverting to a very old-style powertrain format with this coupe — a two litre four cylinder turbocharged unit which outputs some 245bhp at 5,800 rpm.
But it has clothed these traditional mechanicals in a suit of dashing armour and the combination of the two will certainly appeal to a hardcore of people who want their coupe driving to have a familiar storyline but with a very modern twist.
The RC 200t is, of course, a spin-off of the very jaunty RC F coupe which has a five litre V8 and outputs more than 470bhp and this ‘lesser’ model is aimed at people who don’t need their motoring to be either that dashing or that expensive. That 200t enjoys the same look — more or less — as the beefier car and that means it has a very striking appearance indeed which will be a big factor for anyone who buys one.
Design cues such as what might be termed the ‘basking shark’ grille and the angular and jagged linear front, rear and side profiles do very definitely stand the car out from the pack and if I had a few quid for every time someone pointed out to me the individuality of the look of the 200t, I’d nearly have enough to buy one.
They have cheated slightly in places though and things like what appear to be air vents in the back bumper behind the rear wheels turn out to be no more than black plastic slashes which serve no other purpose than adding to the visual sophistication of the thing. Fake they may be, but it works.
Another significant draw for people will certainly be that the car has been lavished with the sort of luxury appeal which has become a Lexus trademark. The interior is a joy of hand stitched leather and some very quirky design touches, such as the moveable instrument cluster which, at the press of a button on the steering wheel, slides sideways to reveal another — digital — display.
Now we have seen fully digital instrument clusters in the Audi TT and the R8 and they work really well, but this design is completely unique and will be a selling point for some people.
The 2x2 layout of the car doesn’t suggest there will be too much room in the rear quarters, but there is actually a good bit of space in there and at one point I had two companion travellers and the one who had to go in the back — a six footer — had no complaints after an hour-and-a-half long journey. Indeed he was quite complimentary about the whole thing.
On the road, the 245 bhp under the hood does not turn the rear-drive 200t into anything like a blistering performer, but there is enough guts in there to have led the unfortunate aforementioned rear seat passenger to inquire if I had been a racing driver (!) at some point in my past. I’m not sure was he impressed or terrified.
But there is a good deal of get-up-and-go on hand here and while it is not of end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it proportions, there is still enough there to get your attention. While Lexus has produced cars notable for their sheer grunt, this is not necessarily one of them. This is more about cross country jaunts in refined style than it is about hooliganism.
That said, the choice of four different driving modes (Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+) gives you plenty of options with regard to what you want the 200t to serve up to you.
These allow you to adapt the suspension (via the standard adaptive variable suspension system), the steering and throttle response but it does not appear to alter the eight speed transmission, which one feels it should, in order to deliver snappier shifts.
Rather, while everything tightens up in, say, Sport+ mode, the eight speed ’box does not deliver snappier shifts as you might expect. This is not a fatal flaw by any means, but it does not necessarily allow someone who likes to get to the bottom of their car to do so.
This is quite a big car and its size and weight tells when you think of comparisons with some of the 200t’s European rivals which are quicker and more nimble; but then, that’s what Lexus wanted to achieve with this car — to provide a beast that has a more mature attitude to life. It’s more about hushed elegance than hard core thrills.
There is — Lexus being Lexus — a hybrid version of the car which is a good deal cheaper than the petrol F Sport version we tried, but I suspect that this is the one any true petrol head will plump for, unless of course they go for the full-fat RC F with the five litre V8 which, by the way, costs north of 100k.
What Lexus has given us here is a car which is an interesting alternative to anything available with sports coupe pretensions and while there are faster, more nimble and more economic options out there, this is something very different with a real je ne sais quoi about it. It has genuine head-turning appeal and real character too and I certainly enjoyed every minute with it.
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